Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare disorder where one is completely color blind. This isn’t red-green blindness, which occurs much more commonly in populations. Harbisson sees the world entirely in grey.
However, working with a cyberneticist, Harbisson helped to design an antenna-like “eye” that plugs into the back of his head. The eye senses colors, then converts the light frequencies into sound frequencies, which Harbisson perceives through bone conduction. He can, quite literally, hear color.
Probably the most fascinating part about this awesome technology is the fact that Harbisson has been able to extend his color “hearing” into ranges of color that normal human eyes can’t perceive–infrared and ultraviolet.
I particularly like Harbisson’s encouragement at the end:
So, if we extend our senses, we will consequently extend our knowledge. I think life will be much more exciting when we stop creating applications for mobile phones and we start creating applications for our own body. I think this will be a big, big change that we will see during this century.
So I do encourage you all to think about which senses you’d like to extend. I would encourage you to become a cyborg.
This is essentially transhumanism–the idea that the ethical use of technology to extend the senses, capabilities, and lifespans of humans is important to our future as a species and should be pursued.
It sounds like science fiction, I know. If you’ve read the work of Alastair Reynolds or other sci-fi authors, you’ll have noticed transhumanist themes. But it’s not fiction–technology is rapidly advancing to the point where enhancements will be possible, easy, and safe. While I don’t agree with kooks like Ray Kurzweil (a futurist who predicts the Singularity will occur in 30 years, but whose work is riddled with confirmation bias and ignorance of basic science), I do believe in the ethical use of technology to help us better ourselves and our understanding of the cosmos. And who wouldn’t want to be able to perceive infrared or ultraviolet light? Sounds incredible to me!
If you are interested, you can check out Harbisson’s Cyborg Foundation here. Also, Humanity+ looks like a fascinating international non-profit transhumanist organization that runs talks and conferences and publishes H+ magazine. Mosey on over and check it out.